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VICTORIANA - Enjoy articles relating to the Victorian Era. A regular column in each issue of The Tea House Times. Written by Patrice LePera - Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing - www.afterimage-art.com

October 2010 Posts


Blog Entry

S/O10 - Lorgnettes by Patrice LePera

posted by TeaHouseTimes Admin, ADMINThursday, October 14th 2010 @ 2:39 PM

From the September/October 2010 issue of The Tea House Times.  To view the most recent issue, please register / log-in at http://www.theteahousetimes.com for free access.


Round (Monocle) Lenses were actually available since around the 14th Century, but in 1785, George Adams designed a case, using oval lenses, so that the delicate lenses could fold into a pocket in the handle, generally tortoiseshell.  Some of his designs featured two pairs of glasses; one for reading and the other for the opera; both sliding into the handle.

The long-handled lorgnettes were known as Dowager Duchess Lorgnettes – Dowager means a widowed woman who had been endowed with an estate.

And it was a double delight not only to be able to see newspapers and books that were being discussed, but to be thought of as a Dowager, independent and wealthy!  Well!

Then, of course, the fashion race was on!  Who would not like to look like a Dowager Duchess, even if they were of relatively modest means?  And of course, if Dowager Lady so and so had a tortoise-shell lorgnette that she waved about at Lady Something’s tea, wouldn’t you look even better with a longer-handled one, (perhaps with a few jewels) in gold?  The Dowagers peered down at you through raised eyebrows, not only to see you better, but to wave their fabulous lorgnette in front of your nose, so that you knew how rich and important they were!  And of course, where were these fabulous lorgnettes advantageously displayed?  At tea parties!  For women, this is where the news of the day, and the social and political events were whispered.  Generally these lenses were ground to “reading glasses” strength, but a few were ground for long-distance viewing, for the opera, balls, theatre (or possibly the races)!

The most fabulous Victorian designer was Carlo Giuliano, an Italian Jeweler and designer living in Britain, featuring gold and colorful gemstones, popular with aristocrats and Royals. The Castellani jewelry designers made gorgeous designs inspired by the ancient world.  Sotheby’s recently sold a platinum Lorgnette and Chain encrusted with - diamond, ruby, emerald and enamel for $53,125!

With the discovery of new silver sources worldwide, and industrialization, silver was affordable to the new wealthy middle class.  The Great Exhibition of 1851 offered its visitors the greatest display of silver works during the Victorian Era, where designers produced silver tea services, silver decorative objects, and of course, silver lorgnettes.  Many thanks to Ed Welch, President of www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com, who kindly lent us images for this article (top & bottom left of print edition). Visit his fascinating website of lorgnettes & vintage eyewear from all eras.

©2010 by Patrice LePera ~ Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing ~ www.afterimage-art.com

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